Feature story: Slices of life

Jesse Eisenberg plays a pizza boy, and Aziz Ansari his best friend, in the explosive comedy '30 Minutes or Less'

What would you do with the proverbial gun to your head? That's the question posed by the new action comedy "30 Minutes or Less."

Except the movie replaces the gun with a bomb strapped to the chest of overgrown pizza boy Nick, who's forced to rob a bank by crooks who wire him to explode. Fresh from his Best Actor Oscar nomination for playing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network," Jesse Eisenberg plays Nick as a slacker whose sudden bundle of nerves invigorates him in surprisingly productive ways.

"It's a kind of 'seize the day' sentiment," Eisenberg said, "because my character lives this kind of mundane life and hasn't accomplished things he wants to accomplish: to tell the girl he loves her, to quit his job, to tell his boss off. And this day, which should be the worst day of his life, ends up being the best day of his life because he's able to accomplish all these things that he probably should have done months and years ago."

But Eisenberg hastened to add that if the movie studio heard him discussing the movie in such serious terms, "I would be taken off the press tour." Eisenberg was in San Francisco -- with co-star Aziz Ansari, who plays Nick's buddy Chet -- to promote "30 Minutes or Less" by any means necessary. Right after serving slices to the patrons of a Potrero Hill pizzeria, the pair sat down at a corner booth for an exclusive chat with the Palo Alto Weekly.

Ansari, a stand-up comic and star of the NBC sitcom "Parks and Recreation," said he enjoyed the "buddy movie" opportunity to work opposite Eisenberg: "We didn't really know each other before the film, and we got to know each other pretty fast, and became good friends. And I think our relationship on screen is kind of a variation on our real-life rapport, if you will."

To the question of lousy jobs, Ansari confesses, "The worst job I ever had was I used to make crystal meth, and it was really hard because the lab would just explode all the time, and it was a lot of cleanup."

Eisenberg insists he's never had a bad job comparable to his character. To the contrary, he's off to Rome to star in Woody Allen's next picture. "It's not the kind of thing you even consider, you know? He's just -- he's the best. He gets amazing actors to do, you know, small roles. ... People just want to work with him, and he's making so many great movies. I'll be so happy just to meet him."

Ansari dismisses a comparison between himself and his entrepreneurial character on "Parks and Recreation," citing his development of film projects as "a pretty common thing."

"If you're a driven actor, you know, most actors do that," he said. "Comedy actors, you look at someone like ("30 Minutes or Less" co-star) Danny (McBride). I'm working on a movie with him, that we're developing, or Seth Rogen, or any of those guys come in."

Of course, not every actor has the chops to roll productively with improvisation, but the pair acquitted themselves under the direction of Ruben Fleischer (who also directed Eisenberg in "Zombieland").

Said Eisenberg: "We were encouraged, but certainly not because the script was light at all. I mean, the script was phenomenal. The detail. The backstory and the characters, the different voices of the characters. Everything was there. It sounds like that should be a standard, obvious thing that every movie would have. Once you start reading ... the amount of scripts that we read, you realize that one out of every 50 scripts has that kind of clarity of voice and humor and authenticity. We were encouraged to improvise because we had such a great platform with which to work.

Ansari concurred: "Yeah, the script was great, and then ... we found a lot of moments while shooting also. That's kind of the best of both worlds. It's like, 'Okay we have this awesome script and we're finding funny stuff while we're shooting.'" That's acting under the gun for you.

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